Death penalty dropped in Mumia Abu-Jamal case

Thirty-year fight to execute former Black Panther dropped by prosecutors after US Supreme Court refuses to hear case.

Death penalty dropped in Mumia Abu-Jamal case
The 30-year death row case against Mumia Abu-Jamal led to the worldwide ‘Free Mumia’ campaign [GALLO/GETTY]

US prosecutors have called off a 30-year contentious battle to execute Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther charged with killing a white police officer.

Abu-Jamal, 58, will instead spend the rest of his life in prison.

Wednesday’s decision brings an end to an often racially charged case that became one of the most recognisable fights over the death penalty in the world.

With the widow of police officer Daniel Faulkner at his side, Seth Williams, Philadelphia district attorney, announced his decision two days shy of the 30th anniversary of the killing in question.

“There’s never been any doubt in my mind that Mumia Abu-Jamal shot and killed Officer Faulkner. I believe that the appropriate sentence was handed down by a jury of his peers in 1982,” said Williams, the city’s first black district attorney.

“While Abu-Jamal will no longer be facing the death penalty, he will remain behind bars for the rest of his life, and that is where he belongs,” he said.

Shootout at traffic stop

Abu-Jamal, a former journalist, was convicted of fatally shooting Faulkner on December 9, 1981. Abu-Jamal was originally sentenced to death in 1982.

According to trial testimony, Abu-Jamal, born Wesley Cook, saw an altercation between his younger brother William and patrolman Daniel Faulkner during a 4am traffic stop in 1981.

Abu-Jamal ran toward the scene from his parked taxi across the street. Police found Abu-Jamal wounded by a round from Faulkner’s gun.

Faulkner, shot several times, was killed. A .38-calibre revolver registered to Abu-Jamal was found at the scene with five spent shell casings.

Over the years, Abu-Jamal has challenged the predominantly white makeup of the jury, instructions given to jurors and the statements of eyewitnesses.

He has also alleged ineffective counsel, racism by the trial judge and that another man confessed to the crime. Also, tests to confirm that Abu-Jamal had handled and fired the weapon were not performed.

“Free Mumia”

Since his incarceration in Philadelphia, Abu-Jamal has gained the support of thousands who consider him to be a victim of racial bias within the US justice system.

His 1995 book, Live from Death Row, describes his prison life and criticises the US justice system as being racist.

Abu-Jamal’s case garnered worldwide support that led to the rise of the “Free Mumia” movement, led by those who believe Abu-Jamal’s case to be racially motivated.

The death sentence was upheld through years of legal appeals. But a federal appeals court ordered a new sentencing hearing after ruling the instructions given to the jury were potentially misleading.

In October, the United States Supreme Court would not hear the case, a decision which left prosecutors to either seek another sentencing hearing in hopes of a ruling for capital punishment, or to accept a life sentence.

The officer’s widow, Maureen Faulkner, has tried to remain visible since then to ensure her husband is not forgotten among the case of what some people have called  “the world’s most famous death row inmate”.

Decision lauded

After seeking the approval of Faulkner, Williams said “another penalty proceeding would open the case to the repetition of the state appeals process and an unknowable number of years of federal review again”.

Williams also said after nearly three decades, some witnesses have died or are otherwise unreliable.

Widener University law professor Judith Ritter, who represented Abu-Jamal in recent appeals, lauded the decision from the prosecution.

“There is no question that justice is served when a death sentence from a misinformed jury is overturned,” Ritter said.

“Thirty years later, the district attorney’s decision not to seek a new death sentence also furthers the interests of justice.”

Maureen Faulkner, who was a 25-year-old newlywed to Faulkner at the time of his death, said on Wednesday “my family and I have endured a three-decade ordeal at the hands of Mumia Abu-Jamal, his attorneys and his supporters…”

“All of this has taken an unimaginable physical, emotional and financial toll on each of us,” said Faulkner.

Both sides have events planned to mark the anniversary of the day of Faulkner’s death and Abu-Jamal’s subsequent arrest.

Supporters of Abu-Jamal, including Princeton professor Cornel West, have a symposium planned on Friday at the National Constitution Center for the man they say is “innocent revolutionary and celebrated journalist”.

Maureen Faulkner, Williams and others involved in the prosecution will gather in suburban Philadelphia to mark the anniversary this week for a screening of the anti-Mumia documentary The Barrel of a Gun, by Philadelphia filmmaker Tigre Hill.

Source: News Agencies